Earlier this week, watching senior lawmakers interrupt Sen. Kamala Harris of California as she interrogated U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions at a Senate hearing on Russia and the Trump campaign, I was reminded why raucous exchanges can be so toxic and unproductive.
When people are talking over one another, it's hard to understand what's being said because thoughts and ideas aren't given a chance to be fully expressed.
Few people ever walk away from such exchanges better off. In fact, people who constantly interrupt can be perceived as self-absorbed or thoughtless, even if they're not.
In his book The Virgin Way, billionaire Richard Branson wrote this about people who interrupt:
"A lot of people get totally hung up on frequently interjecting with comments and questions they mistakenly think make them look smart.
This is seldom the case as, on the usually flawed assumption that they know what the speaker is going to say, instead of listening their focus shifts entirely to trying to formulate 'smart' questions. In addition to the sheer rudeness of their constant interruptions, such people usually only succeed in looking foolish."
In social situations, interrupting people when they speak is a lot like walking into a room of non-smokers and lighting up a cigarette. It's rude and annoying. At work, it can derail effective communication which is critical to the success of a team.
But what if you're the person who is (unknowingly) sabotaging the conversations of everyone around you? If you happen to be a chronic interrupter, here are three ways to kick the habit.
1. Practice listening.
Obvious, I know. But notice I didn't say, listen more. I said: practice listening. Just because you know how to do something doesn't mean you actually do it. That's why practice is so important.
The legendary businessman and author Stephen Covey once said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."
Look for opportunities everyday to practice and deepen your listening skills. Even if it's just for a few minutes at a time. Like a muscle, listening gets stronger with use.
As author Bob Burg says, "Sometimes the most influential thing we can do is listen."
2. Take notes.
Taking notes is a good way to redirect your attention and keep yourself from wanting to interrupt with questions or comments.
"Rather than constantly interrupting a speaker with self-serving questions, it is a whole lot smarter (and better table manners) to note down comments and questions and save them for later," Branson wrote.
You can take notes on what the other person's saying, or you can leave notes for yourself to remind you to listen before you speak. I once worked with a very chatty woman who kept a Post-It note on her desk reminding her to: Think It. Don't Say It.
3. Bite your tongue.
Literally. It'll keep you from blurting out the first thing that pops into your head. It's what behavioral psychologists call a "pattern interrupt", a technique that is used to change a particular thought, behavior or situation.
If biting your tongue is too much, then take three deep breaths. Or count to ten. Anything to postpone that knee-jerk reaction to interrupt. The irony, of course, is that you have to interrupt yourself in order to keep yourself from interrupting others.
"Wise men talk because they have something to say," Plato once said. "Fools, because they have to say something."
We can all become better communicators if we train ourselves to slow down, take a deep breath and think before we speak.
It's your turn.
Which of the tips shared here did you find useful? Are there others that have made a difference in your life? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments.